Yellowstone provided temporary respite from reality of local news

Water flowed so powerful and relentless over the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, plunging into the golden stone chasm, cascading onward downstream. I could see the movement in the distance but not hear the water. 

Instead, I heard voices in four or five languages spoken at a scenic overlook some miles away. Most visitors spoke rather softly, in reverence for the place, a century-old park system caring for wonders millions of years in the making.

Three things occurred to me as I watched and listened. 

Much of that water will eventually flow past Platte County in the Missouri River. Also, Yellowstone Park and the National Park Service are indeed, as Ken Burns said in his documentary, one of our best ideas and a pattern for local parks we enjoy. 

Finally, like the river water originating in Rocky Mountain snow, the world’s politics and cultural issues find channels to flow through our communities.

I was in Yellowstone Parks a few weeks back on a western jaunt. As much as I love Platte County, a change of scenery is a fine thing for the human spirit. 

Awareness of a broader world makes more things seem possible as a person goes about the daily tasks. But I was also reminded of how connected we are to far off places by rivers and things. 

The water tumbling over the falls, someday we might be drawing some to drink from our taps. Most of our drinking water here is sourced from the Missouri River, which is fed by the Yellowstone River.

But just like our bodies need water to survive, so does the human spirit need beauty and inspiration. 

Nature is a primary source. Yellowstone Park is an amazing place for nature, from geysers spouting steam and mineral water to bison and antelope grazing in meadows. The park is also an inspiration for our own green space and trails. 

Yellowstone Park was the world’s first national park when established in 1872. 

Platte County in that year was still reeling from the Civil War, and the loss of the highly profitable hemp trade due slavery’s end. Our woodlands were likely highly cut over yet lingering on the rocky hillsides. Probably native prairie remnants remained, although we have none now. 

Parks were a foreign thing to those folks, by necessity and circumstance. 

Actually, Platte County’s park system only came into being in recent times. They’re due to good planning and strong voter approval, twice, of a sales tax to support them. 
We now have county parks, an award-winning trail system, and a program that helps cities and non-profits provide things like ball fields and cultural programs. Americans like to visit parks; kids like to play in them, and people like to know the opportunity and scenery is there, even if life’s business keeps them away for periods of time.

Much remains to be done for parks in the county. Let us hope the financial support remains unbroken to keep building and improving. 

Parks bring out our better human natures. 

People from the United States and around the world stood at the overlook at the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone. They patiently gave each other room to take photographs. 

Courtesy ruled. It felt like a world away from places where prejudice, hatred, mean politics and strife filled the news. If we can get along in those places, we can get along in others. 

Of course, there is always a return from vacation. And for me came a return from a break from the news. How these times test us. What will we contribute to better times?

Upon my return from the west, I was disappointed to learn that the Platte County Fair Board chose for the recent fair to once again make the confederate flag prominent in the Dirty Shame Saloon. In fact, they placed the confederate flag on the right with the American flag on the left. 

The website states of proper flag etiquette: “When one flag is used with the flag of the United States of America and the staffs are crossed, the flag of the United States is placed on its own right with its staff in front of the other flag.”

So there was one major bungle. 

Of course, the bigger deal is that the Confederate flag is now broadly considered a racist symbol and insulting to many people, or at minimum a narrow political view. Also, sticking the word museum on the outside of the saloon is a poke in the eye to those who last year, after the tragic shootings in South Carolina, said the rebel flag is appropriate for museums but not as representative of cities, counties and states. 

To not recognize and respect that makes the fair board look dim.

I have long enjoyed the fair, but I fear they shall reap in the future what they have sown. That likely includes the loss of participation and interest by many good people of this county.

I’ll hope for the best: That the Missouri River keeps providing us drinking water and a reminder of nature’s largeness; that our county parks provide respite from the world’s stress, and that sociopolitical issues dividing us get eroded away by a thoughtful concern for human goodness.

Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at